3) Teach students how to learn as early as you can.
Before they can learn the content, students need to learn how to engage with each other and their teachers in a blended environment. To help them get started, we offer a “How to Be a Blended Online Student” course. The earlier students start in a blended environment, the easier it is for them to become owners of their education and learning.
We work with students on their independent learning skills, which include how to read and read well. Reading is essential in a blended environment, and that’s why we chose the Reading Horizons curriculum. It met our need to go back to building strong foundations in reading, and we knew students would be highly engaged by their multisensory content.
Our commitment to building the foundations of reading in all of our students is reflected in our early literacy initiative. The goal is that all students will be reading at grade level by the end of their 3rd-grade year. For older students who come to us in the upper grades, we now have the resources that will support them in becoming successful readers as well.
4) Educate parents, too.
When parents come to us about enrolling their children in a blended program, we make sure they understand the expectations. Students will need to become experts at independent learning because that’s what it takes. Parents don’t always realize at the start how involved they’ll have to be, but we work with them to support their children in fulfilling the goals that are established.
Before students begin course work, we hold an orientation for parents. One purpose of this is to find out what the families’ capability is to support our systems when the student is not at school. This includes access to internet connectivity and a device. A small percentage of our families need financial support in this area, and we help them so that all students have equal opportunities.
5) Adapt to serve the community, even if that means changing your focus.
Since our initial plan to create a virtual school, our goals have shifted. Our initial goal was to maximize the number of students; now it’s really about improving achievement among all types of students. Today, District 49 offers blended learning not only in Springs Studio but in two other environments.
Our alternative education center, Patriot High School, uses online curriculum from Edgenuity as well as the Reading Horizons software for school-wide reading assessment and instruction. Educators provide direct classroom instruction with an emphasis on mastery learning to connect with students at risk.
Pikes Peak Early College prepares students for college by combining individualized blended learning with early college options. Students can engage in college course work and earn up to 60 credits or earn their associate’s degree while still in high school at no cost to the student.
As we look to the future, we want to make sure that we’re offering a multitude of opportunities for our kids. The structure is in place; now we can look at how to advance learning for each demographic within that structure. We likely won’t increase our student population, but we are increasing the number of opportunities we can offer them.
To learn more about how District 49 has implemented blended learning, click here to access Superintendent Franko’s recent webcast.